Please Pray For Me

I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me. (Romans 15:30)

Please pray for me.  Numerous times during my life I've heard this request made to me or to someone else.  I want to know: What does the Bible teach about asking others to pray for us?

Here are some questions I have:

• Why should I ask someone to pray for me?

• What value is there in asking several people to pray for me?

• What kinds of things should I ask others to pray for me?

• What is the possible benefit of me praying for others?

• Is there any special reason for several people to pray together in one place?

Let's begin with another question; a basic question about prayer: Why do we pray?  To pray is to ask, beg, or entreat.  And in the context of this study, it's to ask something of God.  So to pray is to ask God for something.  But we can neither see nor hear God; how do we know he hears us or that he will answer us?  That, my friend, is called faith.

Now praying in faith is not, as some think — a blind leap in the dark — but rather it is a humble and reasonable dependence upon God.  And more specifically, it is a dependence upon what God has said about himself and about what he would do for us. That God is capable of hearing all of our words, or even our thoughts, is unquestioned; he is, after all, God.  The fact that God is interested in hearing and answering our prayers is learned from what he has communicated to us in the scriptures.

He has, however, set several conditions that we must fulfill before he will hear and answer our prayers.  We must come to him with our sins confessed if we even want him to hear us.1  Additionally, there are at least six conditions for answered prayer which must all be met if we want him to answer our prayers.  We must pray:

1) with faith- humble and reasonable dependence upon what God has said;

2) in Jesus' name- this is more than simply appending these words to the end of our requests; it is humbly coming to God in the authority of Jesus, not our own;

3) with persistence- repeatedly bringing our requests to God, demonstrates that we are dependent upon God alone;

4) according to God's will- this means submitting our will to his will;

5) with passion- with meaningful words that come from a heart that is desperate for an answer from God alone; and 

6) with obedience- we must continue to obey the truths that God has already taught us.

In order to meet every prerequisite for answered prayer it is required of us that we humble ourselves.  In fact, this exposes the fundamental reason that we pray at all.  We pray principally, not to get something from God, but rather so that we might be changed.  When we meet every condition for answered prayer, we become different people; and by becoming more humble people, we receive the enormous privilege of both sharing God's nature and of fellowshiping with him.  To pray aright is to humbly place ourselves under the mighty hand of God, and as we do this we begin to increasingly think, speak, and act more like him.  

Whether we are praying for ourselves or for someone else, then, we must first meet all of God's requirements if we want him to hear and answer our prayers.  This fact must not be overlooked, and therefore I repeat it: prayer is primarily not for the purpose of getting something from God.  The essential purpose of prayer is to provide us with an opportunity to come into a closer relationship with God.  As we develop more intimate fellowship with God, we also become more like him.

Since we are by nature proud and sinful people, prayer is one of the ways that God provides us to humble ourselves, so that we can understand the truth and respond to it.  If we don't humble ourselves we will not perceive the truth, and if we don't understand the truth, we have nothing to believe.  If we humbly bring our requests to God and search the scriptures to understand who he is, how he works, and what his will is, he will grant us spiritual understanding; this is the basis for our faith.  

So this is how prayer works according to God's design:

• Because of his love, God desires to fellowship with us, as he did in the Garden with Adam and Eve

• Because of our sin we have cut ourselves off from fellowship with him

• Step one to restoring fellowship with God, is to humbly come to him, confessing our absolute inability do anything to remedy the mess we've gotten ourselves into

• In response to our humble contrition, God grants us a measure of spiritual understanding that allows us to begin to take steps of faith back into a relationship with him

• The first significant step of faith is to believe that Jesus is God and that he is your Savior, the very Redeemer that was prophesied from the time that mankind sinned and stepped away from fellowship with God

• The rest of life is simply a repetition of this process: come to God in humility with your requests, search the scriptures to know God, his will, and his ways, and then respond in faith to the truth that he reveals to you

• Prayer, like obedience, thanksgiving, and confession, is simply one way that God has given us to humble ourselves before him and thus draw near to him and experience the blessings of his presence

So where do our prayers for others, or others' prayers for us, fit into this pattern for getting closer to God and becoming more like his Son?  If praying for myself has such a significant impact upon me and my relationship with God, why wouldn't I want to pray for others as well?  Praying for others simply gives me greater opportunity to humble myself, understand more of God's truth, develop a heart for what God cares about, and, in the end, experience a deeper fellowship with God.  Why wouldn't every Christian want to do this?!

Additionally, praying for others gives us an occasion for obeying the second greatest commandment: to love our neighbors as ourselves.8  So praying for others — interceding — has two marvelous benefits: 1) it draws us into a closer love relationship with God; and 2) it draws us into a closer love relationship with the neighbor that we're praying for.  Wow — prayers of intercession help us to obey the two greatest commandments of God!

What kinds of things should we pray for others?  Having heard Christians' prayer requests for all my life, I would safely estimate that more than 90% of them are for some health-related issue.  If our prayers are to be according to the will of God, do we believe that God always wants us to be in good health?9  Even a cursory search of the scriptures for prayer requests will reveal that it is only a small minority of them that are for good health.

The bulk of prayer requests in the New Testament are found in these categories:

• For salvation of the lost

• For strength, protection, faithfulness, and deliverance in persecution

• For words to say and boldness in proclaiming the gospel

• For obedience to the will of God in suffering

• For workers to proclaim the gospel

• For fellowship and mutual ministry with other believers

• For wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ

• For victory over temptation

To be sure there are also some requests for miracles of nature and for physical healing, but they are not nearly in the same proportion as we hear them expressed in the churches today.  Perhaps the reason that there were less prayer requests for good health, is that the people lived healthier lifestyles than those to which we have become accustomed.10  A careful examination of all of the prayer requests in the scriptures should tell us what is most important to God.  These are the kinds of things that we should be praying for ourselves and for those we love.

If the majority of the prayer requests we receive from others are for good health, love demands that we pray with passion, being genuinely concerned for their circumstances, weeping with those who weep.  But love also demands that we humbly and graciously lead others to pray for the things which are God's greatest concerns.  Take a close look at what Paul prayed for others11 and what the apostles asked others to pray for them.12  Become personally familiar with the kinds of prayer requests God records for us in his word.

So, I should welcome the opportunity to pray with and for those who are near to me.  It gives me the opportunity to not only grow closer to God and my neighbors, but also to share in the great joy of answered prayer whenever God grants it.  Only those who humbly and passionately importune themselves before the Father will have the deep joy that springs from the overwhelming assurance that God has accomplished a miracle.  Those who don't pray this way will not experience similar insight and joy.  

What should be my response to requests to pray for someone I don't know?  If an acquaintance of mine asks me to pray for someone he or she knows, how can I pray with the necessary passion?  Surely God does not want me to simply read a list of requests to him; he can read it already.  However, if my friend is deeply moved by the subject of his or her request, then I will show love to him or her by "weeping with those who weep."  I will draw nearer to God by virtue of humbling myself before him, my friend will feel my love for him or her, and I will rejoice with my friend should God choose to answer our request.  

We've made the case that prayer gives us an opportunity to come into close fellowship with God, to demonstrate love for our neighbor, and to experience the incredible thrill of having a part in the mighty works of God.  But is the plaque true when it says, "Prayer changes things"?  Obviously not; it is God that changes things.  But is God more likely to change things if we pray?  Notice that I'm not asking: "Does prayer work?"  I'm asking: "What exactly does prayer accomplish?"  Do our prayers move God to alter his plans?  

When Abraham repeatedly pleaded with the Lord to not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, did his prayers alter what God was already planning to do?13  When God told Moses that he was going to wipe out the disobedient people of Israel — the entire nation — and begin a new nation with him, and Moses dared to tell God why that wouldn't be a good idea, did God really change his mind?14  When Hannah poured out her broken heart to God for a child, and God, who had previously closed her womb was moved to open it, was it her payers that made the difference?15  When Elijah prayed that it wouldn't rain for three and a half years, and it didn't rain, and then when he prayed again, and it did rain, did his his prayers actually affect the weather?16  I'm not asking if the Bible is true; I'm only asking if it was the prayers that effected the changes.

At several places in the scriptures it seems that we are told that God absolutely does not ever change—

God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should repent; has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not make it good?17

For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.18

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.19

Theologians call this the immutability of God.  He does not change as we do: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."20  But does this necessarily also mean that he never changes his mind?  Can his character remain the same and his purposes remain the same, while he changes his mind from time to time?

This moves us to consider God’s sovereignty - exactly how much control does God exert over the created world?  We need to discuss this briefly, since it bears directly upon the subject of answered prayer.  There are two principal viewpoints:

1) Specific (meticulous, exhaustive) Sovereignty - God exercises absolute, complete, comprehensive control over every detail of his creation, down to the movement of every part of every atom, giving humans only the appearance or feeling of making their own choices; 

2) General Sovereignty - God exercises broad control over the purposes and plans of his creation, giving humans actual opportunities to choose right or wrong within that framework

The best explanation, it seems, from examining the biblical texts, is that God employs general sovereignty.  If I take my grandson the the park to play on the playground equipment, I exercise a general sovereignty, not a specific sovereignty, over his actions.  I will control where he plays, how long he plays, and perhaps, who he plays with.  I will not control which piece of equipment he plays on or in which order he plays on them, nor how many times he goes down the slide, nor whether he goes down forward or backwards.  Note that I could control these, but I choose not to.  Someone has said that the difference between general and specific sovereignty is like the difference of control exercised by a teacher over a classroom and a ventriloquist over a dummy.  When the student says something indecent, the student is responsible; when the dummy says something indecent, the ventriloquist is responsible.21

An excellent biblical illustration of general sovereignty is found in Job, chapter one.  God says to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him."22  When Satan came to the Lord a second time, the Lord gave him a little more freedom to afflict Job.  He said, "Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life."23  In each of these cases, God maintained general control over his creation, but gave restricted freedom to operate within the broader framework of his sovereignty.  He didn’t control or designate what kinds of afflictions Satan brought upon Job, nor did he control the godly response that Job manifested.  

Clearly the scriptures teach that God desires a relationship with the creatures he made in his own image.  Why else would he tell us that the most important commandment is to love God?  Why else would he pour out his love on us by sending his Son to die for us?  Why else would he grant forgiveness of sins and eternal life as a free gift to those who will simply receive it in faith?  The New Testament as well as the testimony of the earliest followers of Jesus demonstrate that Christians uniformly believed and taught that God has given us the freedom to choose to love him or to hate him.  It is risky for God to give us this freedom, but as we’ve all learned in life, love means taking risks.

So then, how does this knowledge affect our understanding and approach to prayer?  If God really responds to our prayers and changes things on the basis of what we ask, why we ask, and how we ask, then prayer becomes a marvelous way to connect with the mind and heart of God.  With a general sovereignty viewpoint, one has reason to be confident that prayer really does make a difference.  It should also cause believers to be careful to ask with great humility and respect, knowing that God might give what he knows is not best for us, if we complain and demand of him that our will be done.24

Now does this also mean that it will be helpful to get a lot of people praying for us, to try to "overwhelm" God with requests?  Could a large number of people praying move him to respond, "Well if that many people are asking for this, then I had better grant the request"?  What, exactly, is the value of asking several people to pray for my request?  Is God more likely to answer a request that is made by one hundred people than he is one that is made by only five people?  The scriptures emphasize not the number of people who are praying but rather the character of the people who pray.  James tells us, "The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much."25

Here is an example of the importance of the character of the ones praying.  

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.26

There are clear requirements for the attitude of those praying, but no mention as to numbers.  What percentage of the people would need to pray this way?  Would the percentage of restoration be proportionate to the percentage of those who prayed?  The scriptures don't give us these answers.  It is the character of the ones praying that is emphasized.

But if more people praying doesn't raise the probability of the request being granted, why would the apostles say, "Brethren, pray for us"?27  Clearly they wanted their readers to enter into the ministry with them.  Instead of just "sitting on the sidelines", they exhorted the brethren to join in the fray, to take on the enemy with them, to have a share with them in the advancement of God's kingdom.  But would the work of the apostles be more effective because the believers back in Thessalonica were praying for them?

There is nothing in the scriptures to contradict the possibility that a larger number of people praying — who are interceding with humble and reasonable dependence upon God — would move the heart of God to more quickly or more assuredly answer the request.  We must keep in mind, however, that getting answers to prayer is not a "numbers game"; it is a matter of righteous people humbling themselves before God and seeking his will, not their own.28  Character always trumps numbers.

If I am not trying to overwhelm God with sheer numbers of people praying for the same request, why should I ask someone to pray with me?  Look at the character of the ones you are asking to pray with you: are they people who live righteously, are full of mercy, and walk humbly with God?29  Then by all means, ask them.  Apart from an assessment of the character of those you ask to pray for you, it's simply a way of asking others to either have a share in the ministry you are doing or to help bear a burden you are enduring.  It's asking: "Will you love me, please?"  

This, then leads to the final question we are going to consider in this study: What is the value of believers praying together in one place?  Or, in other words, what is the spiritual impact of prayer meetings?

Are there prayer meetings in the Bible?  Daniel and his three friends prayed together when their lives were threatened.  One hundred and twenty followers of Jesus met for several days to pray, as they, following Jesus' instructions, were waiting for the promise of the Father.  Members of the infant church in Jerusalem came together for prayer when they were given an ultimatum and told to not preach about Jesus any more.  Again, there was a gathering of many for prayer when Peter had been arrested and imprisoned. Each of these prayer meetings were assembled with a sense of urgency, and fervent prayer was made for specific purposes.  There are, perhaps, one or two others, but there is no record of regularly-scheduled prayer meetings in the Bible. 

Okay, so what if there are no regularly-scheduled prayer meetings in the Bible?  There are no cars in the Bible either.  Does God therefore want us to not drive cars?  The difference is this: prayer meetings are purported by some to be the most important meeting of the church, yet in the vast majority of churches it is the most poorly attended meeting.  Therefore, we are told, or left to infer, that it is only the most spiritual people who attend prayer meetings.  Truth be told, it is more probably the people who are most comfortable praying in public that attend prayer meetings — and those that have become convinced that it is a solemn duty to attend prayer meetings.  

Who would have the nerve to criticize a prayer meeting?  It seems like such a revered institution.  Since Jesus clearly taught that we should pray in private,30 what could be the possible motivation to gather for prayer, or to have regularly-scheduled public prayer meetings?  

Gathering together for prayer is natural and biblical response to crises.  The writer to the Hebrews tells his readers to not forsake the assembling of themselves together, but to encourage one another.31  When we face adversity, it is natural to come together for encouragement, either with those who are facing the same adversity, or with those who will share the burden of our own personal adversity.  This is the pattern of prayer meetings in the Bible— a coming together to find spiritual strength with those who can encourage us.  When God's people lift their hearts and voices in fervent prayer in the midst of turbulent times, there is great encouragement.

And the record shows that God most often answers the requests of such desperate believers.  But it doesn't appear to be because of the sheer number of those praying.  No, it is because of the passion of those who are praying.  Consider this: if we are not passionate about that for which we are making requests to God, why would we expect him to care?  This is, I am convinced, the reason for the vapidity of regularly-scheduled prayer meetings, as well as for the paucity of people in attendance. 

Here's how, it seems, regularly-scheduled prayer meetings have come into practice within the church.  Believers come together for prayer in the middle of a crisis, often for hours and days with little or no breaks.  During these times of prayer, attendance is high, and believers experience profound spiritual and emotional encouragement as they share their burdens together and witness the working of God in answer to their prayers.  And, as prayer rightly offered does, it effects positive individual and corporate changes in the ones who are praying.  Sins are confessed, relationships are restored, and many are added to the church.  These are wonderful days in the life of the church, and are often referred to as revivals.

Then, when the answer has come from God and the crisis is resolved, the believers strive to perpetuate what they have experienced by continuing to meet together for prayer.  At first they might continue to meet as frequently as they did during the crisis, but eventually their lives need to experience a sense of normalcy.  But they don't want to lose the wonder of what they experienced, so they schedule at least one prayer meeting each week.  But they cannot keep the fire going.  Attendance drops off, and those most committed to the prayer meetings bemoan the lack of spirituality in the church.  

So the church is left with a handful of those who are convinced that gathering regularly for prayer will bring back the "glory days".  So we institutionalize that which grew out of a deep sense of need and urgency.  And it just doesn't work.  In a sermon on prayer meetings, Charles Spurgeon mentioned several hindrances to effectiveness that plague regularly-scheduled prayer meetings:

• Unholiness

• Hypocrisy

• Long prayers

• Preaching little sermons in our prayers

• Non-specific prayers

• Lack of intensity in praying

• Lack of faith (expectation of answers)

So why would I want to say anything negative about regularly-scheduled prayer meetings?  Well—

• They are not found or taught in the scriptures

• They are fraught with problems

• There is a better way to pray

Believers who share a passion should get together and pray.  They should not try to make others feel unspiritual if they don't share the same fervor.  If no one shares your zeal to pray for a specific issue, they pray for it passionately in private.  No amount of "guilt tripping" people will give them a God-inspired enthusiasm.  Conviction comes from the Holy Spirit, not you.  Speak of your passion to others, and see if God has burdened others as he has burdened you.  When you find another who shares your eagerness perhaps you will decide to meet together for prayer.32  These are the prayers God answers: requests that resonate with the heart of God.

So, let's summarize.  Prayer changes me; it is how I humble myself before the Lord.  Praying for others is a way of showing love for my neighbor.  God does respond to the prayers of his children when they meet his prerequisites.  Prayer does make a difference; God has not predetermined everything.  Asking others to pray with you is one way of giving them an opportunity to join in your ministry with you.  To ask another to pray for you is to ask someone to share your burden, not to overwhelm God with sheer numbers. Before you ask another to pray for your good health perhaps you should first consider if you are treating your body as God instructed.  Believers will naturally come together to pray when they are facing adversity together.  When God brings the answer, they should not try to keep the feeling going by instituting a regular prayer meeting.

Much more can be said about prayer, but I close now with this.  Prayer is tremendous privilege: we have an opportunity to make requests of God himself.  Treat this honor with the respect that it is due.  Use it, but don't abuse it.

1 Psalm 66:18

2 Matthew 21:22 - to have faith, to trust, and to believe are equivalent biblical expressions

3 John 14:14

4 Luke 18:1

5 1 John 5:14-15 - We don't want to demand from God anything that is contrary to his will; the Israelites did that and suffered dire consequences (Psalm 106:13-15).  If we are not sure what God's will is in any given situation, or if we believe that our emotions may be clouding our reason, we should follow the pattern of our Savior, asking God for what we want, but telling him that we want his will more than our own (Luke 22:41-42).

6 Matthew 6:7

7 1 John 3:22

8 Matthew 22:38; Leviticus 19:18; Galatians 5:14 - Do not make the mistake, as some have, to think that God is, in these verses, instructing us to love ourselves.  He is telling us to do something (love others) in the same way that everybody already does something else (love themselves).  Everybody already loves themselves (Ephesians 5:29); that is a given.  Even those who commit suicide demonstrate that they care more about themselves than they do about anyone else.  Whenever God tells us to do something "as" something else is done, it is always compared to something that is, not to something that ought to be.

9 Some assert that physical healing was "in the atonement", since Isaiah prophesied that "He himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases" (Isaiah 53:4; Matthew 8:17).  Matthew notes that the physical healing that Jesus performed was in fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, but it is a stretch to say that Jesus wants to continue to heal every sickness and disease up until the present.  God didn't heal Paul's "thorn in the flesh" (clearly a reference to a physical ailment), Paul told Timothy to "take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and frequent ailments", and he reported to Timothy: "Trophimus I left sick in Miletus."  Surely, if the Lord did not heal the apostle's physical malady, Paul told his protégé, "use wine" rather than "pray for healing" whenever he got sick, and he left a fellow worker sick rather than healing him, then we are hard pressed to say that it is God's desire that we pray for the healing of every disease.

10 I, for one, believe that much of the sickness and disease that are part of the 21st Century western lifestyle are attributable to the so-called foods we ingest every day.  God says that he made "food for the stomach and the stomach for food" (1 Corinthians 6:13).  Most of what is eaten by the west has been altered by contaminants, chemicals, additives, enhancers, steroids, antibiotics, etc., so that the resulting product is certainly not as God created it.  It is possible that the sicknesses and diseases of our times are the result of ingesting substances that are not food and are not what God designed the body to utilize for good health.  Added to this are the fact that most westerners are living a sedentary lifestyle, where they hardly ever even walk to where they are going.  Perhaps God would tell us, when we pray for good health, "Follow what my word says and you will have good health." (see Deuteronomy 7:11-16)

11 Romans 1:8-12; 1 Corinthians 1:4-9; Ephesians 1:15-23; 3:14-21; Philippians 1:3-11; Colossians 1:3-12; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-4; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; Philemon 4-7

12 Romans 15:30-33; Ephesians 6:18-20; Colossians 4:2-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2; Hebrews 13:18-19 

13 Genesis 18:23-33

14 Exodus 32:9-14

15 1 Samuel 1:1-20

16 James 5:17-18

17 Numbers 23:19

18 Malachi 3:6

19 James 1:17

20 Hebrews 13:8

21 John Sanders, The God Who Risks

22 Job 1:12

23 Job 2:6

24 In Numbers 11:4-6, the people complained about not having meat to eat, so God gave them meat, but sent with it a disease (Psalm 106:14-16).  1 Samuel 8:4-9, the people demanded a king, so God gave them a king, along with all the accompanying pain and problems.

25 James 5:16

26 2 Chronicles 7:14

27 1 Thessalonians 5:25; see also: Ephesians 6:19; Colossians 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 3:1; Hebrews 13:18

28 Remember this excerpt from "The Lord's Prayer": Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

29 Micah 6:8

30 When you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6)

31 Hebrews 10:25  

32 Please don't make the mistake that many have— misinterpreting the instructions of Christ concerning discipline in the church.  In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus teaches how to deal with sinning brothers in the church, and explains how his authority to exact discipline must be administered.  Many lift a couple of these verses out of their context and attach meanings to them which were not intended by the Lord.  No one person has the authority to judge another member of the church.  Even Jesus said: "If any man hears my words and does not do them, I do not judge him."  If this was true of our Savior, how much more is it true of us?  For this reason our Lord gave very specific instructions for how believers were to exercise judgment on his behalf.   In verse nineteen Jesus explains that if two or more witnesses are in agreement about a sinning brother's need for judgment by the church, God will exercise it from heaven.  If just one person tries to exercise judgment upon a sinning brother, God is not in it.  So, this is not, as some claim, a blank check for any prayer we may ask, that God is obligated to answer.  It is a confirmation that when believers exercise discipline according to God's instructions, he is doing it through them.  This is further confirmed by the final verse of this paragraph, which many others also lift from its context and apply to meetings of believers in general. 

© 2011 -